Marseille: From Edgy to Edgy and Cool

Have you heard; Marseille may have a new title? Did I miss something? Was I not paying attention when we should have been?

Not only is Marseille the oldest and second largest city in France but it is now considered by some to be a hip vacation destination. Located on the Mediterranean, the city has long offered historical, cultural, multi-cultural, and unique experiences, but it’s the recent uptick in the ‘coolness’ factor that makes it now a must-see.

Multiculturalism Adds to the Vibrancy 

The multicultural aspect of Marseille started long ago when it was founded by Greek sailors in 600 B.C. Since then, the city has been ruled by many different civilizations, including the Romans, Visigoths, and Moors, each one leaving a mark on the city’s architecture, culture, and identity.

A more recent increase in immigration earned Marseille a rough reputation, which the city has worked hard to change – to improve its image and make it safe for tourism. While violent crimes are rare in Marseille, you still need to be alert for the typical crimes in any major city, such as pick-pockets, purse snatchers, and scammers.

Regardless of your destination, you should always be careful and research your location before going. In Marseille, Le Panier, Le Vieux Port, and La Corniche are the safest neighborhoods, whereas the neighborhoods with the highest crime rates are in the 13th to the 16th arrondissements in the northern parts of the city.  There is no doubt that Marseille remains an edgy city but simultaneously offers so much more.

Foodies Will Be Delighted

One of the absolute joys of multiculturalism is the resulting varied, rich food experiences. Marseille’s diverse population is made up mainly of people of French, Italian, North African, and Middle Eastern descent. This blend of cultures is most evident in Marseille’s cuisine, making it a culinary mecca for the local or tourist foodie.

For an unforgettable seafood dining experience, visit the three-star Michelin restaurant, Le Petit Nice, or taste Provençal cuisine at Alcyone, another Michelin-star restaurant, in the Hotel Dieu.

Marseille: le Petit Nice

If you want to try something different, don’t miss Marafiki Coin Tropical in the Le Panier neighborhood, for traditional African cuisine. The Fork lists it as one of the top five best African restaurants in Marseille.

If you’re craving pizza, visit Bebelito Pizza for a classic three cheese or, if you like a little spice, try ‘the devil’ with merguez, chorizo, and peppers. Guests say the service is good and the pizza is great!

Before your trip, be sure to grab a copy of Taste the World in Marseille, a guide to the city’s food scene.

Culture Rich Marseille

 If you prefer culture, you may enjoy Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, a 19th-century basilica overlooking Marseille. Locals call it ‘The Good Mother’ and believe it watches over sailors, fishermen, and the people of Marseille.

Constructed in 1853, the church sits on top of remains from a fort built in 1524 by Francis I. The fort, along with Château D’If, was used to protect Marseille from attack. You can still see remnants of the fort today. If you’re a fan of the book “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas, you may recognize Château D’If. Be sure to schedule a tour of the infamous castle.

Château D’If Marseille

History lovers can visit the Basilica’s museum to learn more about Garde Hill and the city of Marseille, through its collection of 2,000 documents, photos, and objects.

To learn about European and Mediterranean culture, visit the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM), France’s “national museum preserving European and Mediterranean cultural heritage”. Learn about these peoples through the museum’s 500,000 objects/artifacts and its access to 150,000 books and magazines on anthropology, archaeology, and folklore.

Incidentally, the museum is a short ferry ride from Château D’If, so you can visit both on the same day!

If you like art, visit the Marseille Contemporary Art Museum, or book a private tour of a gallery, such as Backside Gallery or the Double V Gallery, where you can interact with gallery owners and artists.

Nature Rich Marseille

Nature lovers will enjoy hiking on the limestone cliffs or swimming in the crystal-clear waters at Calanques National Park, a short drive from the city center.

Calanques Marseille

Marseille offers some of the best cave diving. Visit Cosquer Cave to see Stone Age paintings and carvings, or the tunnels in the Riou Islands to see moray eels, crabs, and the occasional octopus.

What Else to Do in Marseille

It’s uncommon to be able to enjoy both a vibrant city and a beach in one location, but in Marseille, you have the benefit of both. There is something to do for everyone:

  • If you want a low-key day, stroll through Le Vieux Port (The Old Port) or the Noailles markets where you can smell the exotic spices that represent the city.
  • If the beach is more your scene, spend a leisurely afternoon at private beach clubs like Le Petit Pavillon or Plage de L’Escale Borely offering services and amenities not available at public beaches, such as food/drink orders delivered to you, or umbrellas, chairs and towel rentals.
  • For a bohemian artsy vibe, check out Le Panier with its colorful buildings, street art, and boutique shops such as Trois Fenêtres (Three Windows) or Le Makadam Vintage.


The Climate Wins Again!

The Mediterranean climate is always a reason to visit Marseille. If you like the heat, July and August are the hottest months with temperatures averaging 82– 86 F (28– 30 C) during the day, and around 66 F (19 C) at night. If you like wearing sweaters, you’ll want to visit in December, January, and February where the temperatures average 54 F (12 C) during the day and 39 F (4C) at night.

Where to Stay

Finding where to stay on your adventure can be stressful, but Marseille offers such a wide variety of choices from boutique hotels overlooking Le Vieux Port, to mansions along the coast, so you’re sure to find something amazing.

One of the most iconic hotels is the InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu overlooking the Old Port. This historical hotel, once an 18th-century hospital, offers luxury rooms and suites with every modern amenity. If you want a little more privacy, consider a suite with a private balcony overlooking the sea at Les Bords de Mer. The Marseille Office of Tourism’s website will help you find the perfect place to stay.

Hotel: Les Bordes des Mer

What Are You Waiting For?

 While the world was looking the other way, Marseille shed some of its reputational cocoons and transformed into the historical, culturally diverse, and naturally beautiful butterfly you need to see. Whether you’re wandering the colorful streets of Le Panier, exploring Calanques National Park, or enjoying a meal at one of the city’s popular eateries, Marseille promises a unique and unforgettable experience. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and go to Marseille before the rest of the world catches on.

Have you been to Marseille? Have you noticed changes? Would you agree that there is now a ‘cool’ element? Please share below

Image Credits:
Unless otherwise indicated, all images were obtained from the entity’s Facebook and/or Instagram pages – all images are public domain.


About the Contributor

Michelle Mason

I’ve loved the French language & culture ever since taking my first French class in high school. By day, I’m an instructional designer, content, and technical writer, working on projects for Fortune 50 and Fortune 100 companies. At night, I’m a freelance writer & copywriter.

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  1. Sheila Ritchie Jan 22, 2024 at 4:26 AM - Reply

    Nice article. I spent 4 days in Marseilles last September; 6 of us went for matches in the Rugby World Cup. I loved it. We stayed in the nHow hotel which was wonderful, right on the rocky shore, and 10 minutes’ walk from the Beach. We did most of the things you recommend, after an overview from Le Petit Train.

    Def worth doing.

  2. Suzanne Grosso Vidal Jan 22, 2024 at 8:34 PM - Reply

    This was a nice article about Marseille. It’s good to know where to go. In the right areas it is quite wonderful. This is a good guide 👍🏻

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